Miss America Serves Stories

Miss Forestville 2017 Erika Farrell
“When I became involved in the Miss America Organization, I chose the platform “Making Marvelous Miracles to Support Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.” I knew the importance of CMN Hospitals because my cousin had been treated at one for a blood infection when he was younger. I never thought my connection to my platform would turn even more personal until the unexpected happened. In March of 2014, I had an appointment with the GI clinic at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. I had been losing weight, suffering from severe abdominal pain and fatigue, and more. My doctor quickly ordered a list of tests to be done and the following week we received the phone call from the doctor who told my mom, “Erika has Crohn’s Disease, Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis, and Autoimmune Hepatitis.” It was my junior year of high school and I was now labeled with three diseases I had never heard of before.

“I quickly became familiar with the inside walls of CCMC as I was admitted almost every month for the next two years. Going through constant tests and procedures is never fun, especially while trying to find a medication that works, but I can’t thank CCMC enough for the compassion they showed me. I never once felt anything less than love from the nurses, doctors, and all the staff. There are even times when I forgot I was in a hospital because of the lengths they go to make it feel like home. I truly believe this is all due to the outpouring of support they receive from CMN Hospitals. The best thing about this organization is that the money raised is put to use wherever the funding is needed most. During the Miss America Serves event I see so many titleholders and volunteers across the country raising funds for their local children’s hospitals and my heart is full knowing that we are all working to make a difference and make miracles happen.”

Miss Central Iowa 2017 Emmy Cuvelier
“Last year, dressed up as Princess Ariel, I was able to visit a little girl who was suffering from Leukemia and had just returned home from her stay at the U of I Children’s Hospital. When I arrived she was under the table crying, and her parents explained that she was on medication that made her have extreme mood swings. When they asked her why she was sad, she replied through her tears, “I don’t know!” It broke my heart to see her like this, so I kneeled beside her under the table to introduce myself and saw her eyes light up immediately. With a little coaxing, I was able to get this sweet girl out from under the kitchen table and crown her a “true princess forever.” Now that she was a true princess, she smiled and laughed the rest of the time I was there, and gave me a tight hug before my “swim back to Atlantica”. Her parents told me before I left that this was the happiest they had seen her in months. That day, I realized what a huge impact my crown could have on a child’s life. Whether dressed as a Disney princess or wearing a Miss America Organization crown and sash, children look up to us to be a light of hope and positivity. Through that experience I learned so much, and I made it my responsibility to never take anything for granted and to use my crown and sash to spread the hope and positivity it represents.”

Miss Southeast Iowa Johannah Vittetoe
“My niece and nephew were both diagnosed with an extremely rare and fatal genetic disorder which connects my family directly to the Children’s Miracle Network. My niece, Everlee, and nephew, Breckyn, are both battling Congenital Disorder of Glycosylation (CDG) type 1 and will spend countless hours and even days at a time in the hospital. Two years ago, Everlee spent weeks in the University of Iowa Pediatric Intensive Care Unit fighting for her life against this disorder. Last month, Breckyn spent a week in the hospital fighting a simple virus. The Children’s Miracle Network supports the research, training, equipment, and uncompensated care for my niece and nephew. I have personally seen the impact the Children’s Miracle Network has had on my family. I have seen how well they take care of their patients and with the genetic disorder being so rare, there is no cure. Our Children’s Miracle Network hospital goes above and beyond to research and treat my niece and nephew with best care possible. We are very fortunate to have a CMN hospital so close to home.”

Miss Eastern Iowa’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Alysa Goethe
“When I was 11-years-old and first diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, CMN helped me the whole time I was in the hospital. They gave me books that were donated and brought me to the hospital’s gym to socialize and play games with other kids. They made sure I still had fun even though I was in the hospital. It helped take my mind off of everything I was going through and made me feel less scared. I’m extremely grateful to have had the help of CMN and it is an honor to have the opportunity to help them in return through Miss America’s Outstanding Teen program!”

Miss Capital City 2017 Hannah Robb
“Becoming a local titleholder this year was incredibly challenging for me. I had 12 surgeries on my spine during a 6 month time frame and the result was removing the bottom portion of my spine and inserting a wound vac for two months. When I competed at my 2nd preliminary this year, I did so with a tube coming out of my back and a wound vac that I had to carry. Regardless, I was encouraged to go on and do the competition, and to my surprise, I won! I’m writing this to share how much the Children’s Miracle Network means to me. As a new 18-year-old, I’m still a Children’s Miracle Network kid, and likely will be for a while. My local CMN hospital in Louisville, KY is Norton Children’s Hospital (formally known as Kosair Children’s) to whom I’m eternally grateful for all they’ve done for me. Without the team of Neuro and Spine surgeons, and countless others, I would not have been able to walk across the Miss Kentucky stage in 3 months. Without the Children’s Miracle Network, I would not be where I am today. My recovery still has a way to go, but in the meantime, I’m putting my heart and soul into fundraising for the CMN.”

Miss Collegiate Area 2017 Samantha McGraw
“As a titleholder, Children’s Miracle Network is more than the Miss America National platform; it is the reason why I am walking across across the Miss Massachusetts stage (in extremely tall high heels). My story begins in the third grade when I started to notice that my walking was slightly different from other children my age. As the year continued, my walking started to cause me extreme discomfort and became increasingly different in comparison to my peers. My family brought me to a local doctor’s office, where I was diagnosed with having growing pains. Since the diagnosis was so common and minor, my family started to think that I was walking this way as a cry for attention, and ignored the real pain that was ruining my life.

“While many of my peers began labeling me as “the penguin girl,” “limpy-limpy,” and “the girl version of Forest Gump,” I too began to label myself. I looked in the mirror and could see someone limited, weak, and helpless. I no longer was Samantha McGraw, for I had lost myself. I had no support system and lacked friendships because I was perceived as different. The pain and walking difficulties continued into the fourth grade, until I was no longer able to walk. Finally, when I had to crawl around the house and refused to go to school, my parents apprehended that this was more severe than they had thought. The next morning, I had abruptly lost all feeling in my legs, and was rushed into an eighteen-hour surgery at Children’s Hospital in Boston that changed my life forever.

“The team of doctors in the orthopedics department explained to me that I had a condition called “Unstable Slipped Capital Femoral Epiphysis.” For reasons that are not well understood, the ball at the head of the femur (thighbone) slips off the neck of the bone in a backwards direction. In most cases, just one hip will begin to slip, but if caught in time it is noted that there will be no further complications. Unfortunately, my case was rather extreme due to the condition being misdiagnosed and caught too late, which led to a full a bilateral slip. If I had taken just one more step, I would have had an unfixable ambulatory disability.

“The next four years of my life were spent in and out of Children’s Hospital Boston, getting procedures and physical therapy done in order to make it possible to walk normally once again. For the time being, I was in a wheelchair and figuring out my life as someone with a motor impairment. (This experience later led me to pick my personal platform, The Wheelchair Foundation. It is a non-profit that provides wheelchairs to those around the world that need one, but do not have the financial means necessary to obtain one.)

“Looking back on everything I faced, I now realize that no child should have to go through a traumatic medical experience without staying in a Children’s Miracle Network Hospital. The hospital turned what could have been the most uncomfortable and painful experience into something more manageable due to the care and support they offered during my journey to recovery. Seeing the drastic effects of what hospital bills and out of town stays to obtain the care from CMN hospitals can do to a family, I advocate for CMN on such a personal level. My twenty inch scars running down my legs tell just one of the many CMN success stories. For that reason, I will forever strive to give back to the place that has enabled me to be as physically capable and healthy as I am today, because I know this is the hospital that can really make miracles happen.”

Miss Scotts Bluff County 2017 Nikki-Catrina Anderson
“Just before I was two years old, I was admitted to a Children’s Miracle Network Hospital for an allergic reaction to a sulfa med I was given. It caused major ulcers in my mouth, throat, stomach, intestines, etc. I was in the ICU for 3 days and was later moved to a room where I spent 2 1/2 weeks. I turned two-years-old while in the hospital, and weighed only 12 lbs. My dad would come on weekends and my mom was able to utilize the services of the local Ronald McDonald House to shower and rest.”

Miss Harvest Moon Festival 2017 Lianna Prill
“I almost lost my younger twin sisters and mother when I was three. Merrilee and Mariclaire were born three and a half months premature January of 1998. Merrilee weighed 1.7 pounds and Mariclaire weighed 2.3. They stayed at Omaha’s Children’s Hospital and Medical Center at least three months before being released. I lived with my grandparents for three months, while my family called the Rainbow House home. Years later, my family was a part of the Omaha’s Children’s Hospital and Medical Center Telethon event at the hospital. There, family members impacted by the Children’s Miracle Network hospital shared personal stories on air.

“My sisters are now healthy 19 year-olds with no health conditions. They are seriously miracles! We all attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and they are planning to give back to the nurses who saved their lives by becoming neonatal nurses.

“The three of us have competed in the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen and Miss Nebraska programs where I have been able to crown both of them. We passionately continue to raise funds for the hospital that saved their lives and stay in touch with the amazing medical staff in Omaha.
Children’s Miracle Network has played an integral role in our family’s lives, and I am so thankful for the Miss America Organization who partners with a movement that makes miracles happen. Because of these two incredible organizations, I not only have my sisters but also Miss America sisters.”

Local Executive Director for the Miss Columbia/Miss Capital City Scholarship Programs, Heather and Clay Vassey
“Hudson Vassey was born unexpectedly 6 weeks early on the very night a new Miss America was crowned. He came into this world abruptly and we were unsure what his future held as they rushed him out before we got to hold, touch, or even really see him. He was a hefty 5lbs but he had torn nerves between his shoulders and neck. They had told us that he may never move his arm and it may not grow with his body. The doctors also immediately thought he had a fractured skull because of his strenuous birth.

“Thankfully after many tests, therapy, and a stay in the Palmetto Richland NICU, he has made a full recovery as a healthy and active 18-month-old. We had always raised money for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals through the Miss South Carolina Organization, but now it really hits home. We want each miracle to continue to have the detailed care and special treatments just as Hudson did at the NICU. Those nurses and doctors were the first ones to feed him, hold him, and change him. They really took care of our sweet boy when we couldn’t and now it is our turn to give back every chance we can get by donating to CMNH.”

Miss Nebraska Organization
“While working as a reporter for KETV News in Omaha, NE, our Miss Nebraska Co-Marketing Director, Brandi Peterson, had the opportunity to travel to La Paz, Mexico with a team of physicians and health care professionals from Nebraska’s Children’s Hospital. Her task was to cover the work they’ve been doing for the past few years with Operation Open Hearts, a mission that provides critical heart surgeries to infants and young children who otherwise would be forced to go without.

“While in Mexico, Brandi got to know the staff at the hospital in La Paz and see firsthand the amazing benefits of the gracious acts from this team of professionals. She would see many families who would arrive at the hospital with nothing, not even a blanket, let alone anything to keep the children occupied and in good spirits while going through painful surgeries and recoveries.

“When presented the idea of our Miss Nebraska contestants providing each child with a care package to help them and their families through their stay at the hospital in Mexico, Dr. Hammal who takes lead with Operation Open Hearts, was overjoyed with the idea.

“While these children and their families do not reside in the U.S, it is our team of Nebraska Children’s Miracle Network health care professionals who are selflessly offering their skills to help these small humans and showing that no one is underserving of compassionate health care.”

Miss Prairie State Kaitlyn Dixon
“Theo is our miracle baby! He was born with many complications due to his early and traumatic birth at 28 weeks. He was the longest standing resident at St John’s Children’s Hospital NICU. He spent the first six months of his life in his little corner of the world, his NICU pod. The staff, the doctors, the nurses, the therapist, social worker and even the housekeepers became his family. Everyone loved to come and visit with him and get one of those toothless grins! He got so big they had to move a big boy crib into the NICU.

“He came into our lives at five months old. I was able to see the exceptional and excellent care that he received from the staff first hand. Miss Julie had been his primary nurse. She went above and beyond in her love and care for Theo. She still holds a very special place in the heart of our family! He came home to us at six months and was home for just one month before returning to the PICU for a two month stay. Again, the doctors & nurses were amazing. My mother moved into the PICU for those two months. Not only were the nurses providing exceptional care for Theo, but they always made my mother feel very at home. Our time at St. John’s was a scary and difficult time. All of the staff and the exceptional care provided helped to make our family feel calm and assured. St John’s Children’s Hospital will always feel like home to us!”

Miss Trumbull 2017 Jillian Duffy
It’s crazy how your life can drastically change in a minute. One day I was your average 8th grader and the next day, I was diagnosed with Leukemia and about to embark on the toughest journey of my life.

In September of 2010, I just wasn’t feeling myself so we went to see my doctor who ordered bloodwork. When the test results came back, my doctor instructed my parents to take me to Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, which is Connecticut’s Children’s Miracle Network Hospital.

I was first introduced to the Miss America organization when Miss Connecticut 2010, Britney Decker came to visit during my many stays at the hospital. Each time she visited, she had a smile on her face and would take the time to get to know me. We struck up a friendship and she asked me to speak at the “Day of Confidence” event she was holding. During that event, she explained to me the relationship between Miss America and CMNH and about the service aspect of the Miss America Organization. I was so impressed with what the Miss America organization was doing, I had to become a part of it. I’ve been part of the organization for years now and have loved every minute of it.

I hope someday soon we will find a cure for cancer but it’s comforting to know until we do, we have our very own Children’s Miracle Network Hospital to help us through our journey and organizations like Miss America to support and raise funds for CMNH.

Miss Southwestern Virginia 2014 Madison Montgomery Shinaberry
Madison Montgomery Shinaberry was a 2012 honors graduate from Turner Ashby High School, and attended the Massanutten Regional Governor’s School. She was a Johnson Scholarship recipient and dual degree student at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, VA where she was a member of Alpha Delta Pi sorority and Phi Eta Sigma National Honor Society.

Madison was an active and passionate advocate for organ donation. Along with Delegate Richard “Dickie” Bell (R-Staunton), she successfully lobbied the Virginia Board of Education to incorporate organ donation education into Virginia public schools ninth grade physical education classes. She frequently spoke to organ donor families, civic groups, and professional organizations such as the Caring Voice Coalition on the importance of organ donation. In 2012, Madison was selected by LifeNet of Virginia to ride the Donate Life float in the Rose Parade in Pasadena, CA.

In 2014, Madison qualified for the Miss Virginia Competition when she was crowned Miss Southwestern Virginia. She raised more than $10,000 for the Children’s Miracle Network as part of the Miss America Organization. Her health challenges ultimately prevented her from participating for the title of Miss Virginia. Her final days were graced by an outpouring of love and kindness from family and special friends.

Miss America Serves Day